ALBRIGHT: Could Yellowjacket girls’ cross country go up a class?

If a single team at one school wished to play up a competition class in the past in West Virginia, the entirety of the athletic department had to follow along with the wishes for the desire to become a reality until a few months ago.

A recent rule passed by the state’s board of education dissolved this requirement, instead establishing the opportunity for individual sports to test abilities at a higher level beginning with the 2020 reclassification by the WVSSAC.

Decisions aren’t permanent for those worried about the flux of talent associated with high school athletics. Teams better be prepared to weather the storm, however, as a four-year commitment comes attached to the choice.

Most coaches wouldn’t jump into a short-term rise in challenge without having a good gauge of their talent system year-in and year-out.

Few teams come to mind who would or could take advantage of the rule:

* Huntington St. Joe’s girls basketball

* Independence wrestling

* Winfield’s cross country teams

* Winfield’s soccer teams

* Bridgeport track and field

* Fairmont Senior basketball teams

Williamstown’s girls cross country squad entered the conversation with a second convincing Class A state championship victory Saturday in Ona. Larry Cassady’s young team finished third overall in a field consisting of Class AA and A teams. The Yellowjackets nearly claimed a silver-place finish had they been in Class AA, falling four points short of Bridgeport, 94-98.

Winfield ran away with the Class AA title with 62 points. Four runners (three seniors and two sophomores) finished in the top 30 with another one just outside at 31 (another senior). Yet, four seniors depart the Generals leaving the field relatively wide open.

Perhaps the Generals’ success with a veteran experienced group foreshadows what is in store for Williamstown in the following seasons?

A lot would have to happen for the Yellowjackets not to bring home the Class A gold again next season, but what about 2020?

Could the ‘Jackets bring home a Class AA title?

Sophomore Ella Hesson’s career trajectory orbits current WVU uber runner Maggie Drazba. Hesson’s times in her first two state championship appearances show development ahead of where Drazba stood in her younger years.

Hesson finished the state course in sub-20 minutes twice in a state champion finish in 2018 and runner-up effort in 2017. Her time could have been faster if not for the muddy conditions Saturday in Ona.

NCAA Division I running appears in her future as she continues learning and improving her technique.

Freshman Natalie Sawin impressed throughout the season. The pack running at which teammates Emilee Ellison (30th at state), Chloe Lightfritz (34th), and Stella Flanagin (37th) excelled coupled with Hesson usually being towards the front of the race often left Sawin in no man’s land. She competed fine as a solo act, Saturday being a perfect example. Sawin defied her 10th-place runwv.com projection for a sixth-place podium-trip finish.

Adjusting to conditions remains an important part of the sport and Hesson and Sawin showed little problems making the necessary tweaks.

Sophomores Ellison and Flanagin along with freshman Lightfritz building strategies keeping them close to each other means a feel for each runners’ tendencies and preferences improves each race. Plans of attack gain sophistication with said experience, which makes the three underclassmen a dangerous trio on the course.

Freshman Maybree Rinard (59th), perhaps, benefits the most from her teammates’ success. Her finish at the state tournament isn’t anything to wag a finger at as she finished in front of more than 50 percent of the field.

Yet, you see this scenario all the time. Teammates push themselves to higher levels when others succeed around them too.

Williamstown’s machine slowing down won’t happen any time soon. Three more talented freshmen join the big show in 2019.

A decision has to be made sooner rather than later. The SSAC application deadline date stands sometime next April. Cassady likely would factor the girls in the decision, as he knows they are the ones running after all.

The talent certainly exists for a successful foray into the unknown. College careers aren’t out of the question for any of these runners. Class A teams already compete against AA teams throughout the entire year as well.

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

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